Tips & Tricks

How To Develop Your Child’s Sense Of Humor Through Listening And Language

Laughter brings us together but not getting a joke can leave us feeling isolated.

Humor contributes positively to social interactions, relationship building and our ability to communicate our thoughts, feelings, and beliefs. We use humor to help us understand our world, try out new ideas and think in new and different ways.

Humour requires the use of social, emotional, and cognitive skills including Theory of Mind to understand the perspectives of other people. But many children with hearing loss have delays in the development of their understanding and use of humor.

In this blog post, we will look at the typical stages of the development of humor, as well as some ‘punny’ ideas that will have you and your child laughing together in no time.

What Do We Mean By Humor?

  • Humor revolves around recognition that something is unexpected, incorrect or ridiculous (e.g., finding a toy horse in the fridge).
  • To recognize the unexpected and appreciate humor, children must first understand what is normal. (i.e., a toy horse does not go in the fridge)
  • Humor is playful

Stage One: Using Objects In Unexpected Ways

A simple way of helping your child understand humor is to use objects in an unexpected way that provides entertainment.

For example:

  • A banana is used as a mobile phone
  • A washcloth is used as a hat
  • A box is used as a shoe

Ideas for activities:

  • Use familiar objects in different and absurd ways and show your child you think it is funny by smiling and laughing.
  • Smile and laugh when your child copies you or uses a different object in a funny way.
  • Add language to explain why it is funny (e.g., Oh that’s funny… you put a box on your foot. We can’t use a box for a shoe. We can’t walk with a box on our foot)
  • Use exaggerated intonation when talking to pull your child’s attention to the words and highlight the positive emotion in your voice.

Stage Two: Giving Objects Or Actions The Wrong Name

In stage two, objects or actions are given the wrong name for fun and to make others laugh.

For example:

  • A child who knows the word eyes points to their ears instead when asked, “where are your eyes?”
  • “Here’s my hat”…with a cheeky smile when holding a shoe.
  • A child who knows a song deliberately sings the wrong word (e.g., Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Moon)

Ideas for activities:

Be sure your child knows the ‘correct’ word before you begin to show examples of this stage of humor

  • Use ‘Listening First’ and tell your child about an object or an action that you are going to show them. (e.g., “Have a look in this box. It’s a book”. Or, “Watch me, watch me… I am going to jump”)
  • Then reveal the object or perform an action that does not match the words and show your child that you enjoyed playing the ‘trick’ by laughing and smiling. Add words to explain the joke.(e.g., “Haha, I said book… but it’s a car.”  Or, “Snore, snore…. Haha, I said I was going to jump but I fell asleep”)
  • Smile and laugh when your child copies you or thinks of and performs a different ‘trick’.

This type of ‘clowning’ is an important stage in the development of humor but you might want to set some limits and explain when you’ve had enough. Too much of this stage can limit language learning and personal development.

Stage Three: Changing Features Of Objects, Animals or People

In Stage Three, you change the features of objects, animals or people to create something impossible or ridiculous.

For example:

  • A horse says ‘moo’.
  • Pigs can fly.
  • A man has 4 legs.

Ideas for activities:

  • Cut out pictures of animals (here are some you can print at home) and cut the heads from the bodies. Play with mixing the animals heads and bodies together and find the funniest one. Try and make up a funny name for the new animal. (e.g., Mouse head on a sheep body = meep)
  • Play ‘True’ or ‘Silly’; makeup sentences then decide if the sentence is true or silly. (e.g., “Daddy has 2 eyes.” Or “A mouse can pick up an elephant.”) This game can be a fun way of learning about our world, too. Have a smartphone handy to check your answers.
  • Look for this type of humor in children’s books and point it out to your child. Show enjoyment by smiling and laughing and explain why you think it’s funny. (e.g., “That’s so funny… A duck is driving a truck…. Ducks can’t drive”)

Stage Four: Telling Jokes With Language And Actions

In stage four, language and actions are used to tell jokes. Phonological awareness skills and an understanding of multiple meaning words may be required. With more complex jokes, Theory of Mind skills are needed to predict the thoughts, feelings and beliefs of other people.

For example:

  • Where do cows go when they are bored? …To the moo-vies.
  • What has four wheels and flies? …A garbage truck.
  • The penguin joke. You can download and print this joke to teach to your child. Use the thought bubbles and facial expressions in the illustrations to help you explain what the people in the joke are thinking and feeling.)

Ideas for activities

  • Expand vocabulary through introducing your child to words that sound the same but have different meanings (e.g., bear and bare).
  • Play games using multiple meaning words. Think of as many different sentences as you can to illustrate the different meanings of one word. (e.g., She hit the ball with the bat. A bat flies at night. Bat the balloon away.)
  • Use mental state words (e.g., think, feel, remember, wonder, angry, excited) when talking to and book sharing with your child. Take the time to explain what people are thinking and feeling and describe how you know that.
  • Be prepared to explain why jokes are funny. It could be because of the sounds in the words or the multiple meaning of a word or the requirement to understand what a person is thinking or feeling.

Looking for more ways to help your child improve their communication skills? Take a look at our Rehab At Home series. 

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